Few topics within the IT industry grab as much attention or draw such fiery opinions as the issue of federal visa programs pertaining to tech professionals (H1-B specifically) and the merits of immigrant labor in the American business landscape.

The visa debate normally reaches a fever pitch around springtime, when the federal government reviews the H1-B visa program, with most IT conglomerates clamoring for more visas and U.S. labor organizations lobbying to reduce the visa limits.

This time around, even more fuel will be thrown on the fire by a newly proposed Department of Defense initiative that would bar non-U.S. citizens from U.S.-based technology jobs. The proposal would affect enterprises across the country and abroad, as well as thousands of government workers and contract employees already working via a visa.

According to a Washington Post article, “Pentagon Seeks Curb On Foreign Workers,” the “plan would affect untold numbers of Defense Department staffers working on sensitive but unclassified projects as well as legions of workers at technology firms with contracts to maintain agency databases or revamp military e-mail systems.”

As of March 8, the proposal’s specific text had yet to be released publicly, according to the Post, and it comes in response to overall national security issues in the wake of 9/11.

“As we review our security requirements as a nation, we need to ensure all people with access to sensitive [information technology] systems are cleared and properly vetted for the material to which they have access,” Pete Nelson, the Defense Department’s deputy director for personnel security, said in a statement published in the Post article.

The plan’s impact could be severe to the U.S. economy, on both the national and regional level. According to the Post article, as many as 9,500 foreign-born people entered the country on temporary visas to work in northern Virginia alone, according to a 2001 study by George Mason University.

The proposed DOD plan could clearly be a boost to labor groups, however, who have continually claimed that immigrant labor hindered U.S. employees seeking tech jobs, as pay is normally lower for immigrant employees. And with today’s tightened economy and smaller labor pool, the plan could likely mean more opportunities for U.S. tech professionals—both new and tenured.

One of the industry’s strongest and most vocal groups on the H1-B issue, the Information Technology Association of America, believes more discussion is necessary before the DOD proposal is approved, according to the Post article.

We want your feedback on this issue
What do you think of this latest development regarding immigrant tech workers? Will it have a positive or negative impact on U.S. companies and tech staffs? Is it a legitimate attempt to foster national security? How will it affect today’s tech professional? We’ve started a discussion on CIO Republic because we’re extremely interested in hearing your opinion, insight, and response to the latest, but clearly not the final, development in the ongoing tech immigrant saga.

While the poll results above indicate that most TR members don’t employ tech visa workers, the ramifications of a complete stop to immigrant labor clearly reach beyond just staffing. Participate in the discussion or send us your opinions via e-mail, and if we use your input in our upcoming article on this issue, we’ll send you a TechRepublic coffee mug.